a list of…five gold medal books about London, home of the 2012 Olympics!

The Olympics are coming, the Olympics are coming!  What a great moment for London!    I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us!  Now’s the perfect time to introduce children in your life to this outstanding city, so they can recognize the places and names they see and hear on the TV broadcasts.  Brew some tea, make a batch of scones, and settle in with...


A Walk in London, written and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

Follow a mom and young daughter as they tour London by double-decker bus, on foot, and ferry, through sunshine and, of course, rain, inside, outside, upstairs and down.  Salvatore Rubbino’s brilliant illustrations showcase the highlights of the city from Buckingham Palace to The Tower of London, Covent Garden to St. James’ Park, including a supercool, foldout panorama of the Thames.  The scenes are enlivened with scads of interesting people, traffic, birds, so there are no stodgy bits.

Narration by the young girl of the day’s comings and goings makes a pleasant, brief storyline, while smaller-print interesting tidbits are sprinkled throughout the pages giving us the inside scoop on everything from the dragons that guard The City to the number of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies and pearls in the Imperial Crown.  You can learn quite a lot about London by reading through the whole book.

I looked at quite a few “these are the sights of London” books and this was my hands-down favorite.  I really love Rubbino’s illustrations — the pages are laid out with such appealing design, there’s a lot to spot in each page spread without an overly-busy feel, and he’s captured the same classic feel of M. Sasek (This is London) while updating the information.   I love the sense of bustle and discovery.  My only regret is the lack of any mention of the Underground.  Published just last year, this is the place to start in getting acquainted with London.

Through Time: London,  written by Richard Platt, illustrated by Manuela Cappon

Now that you’ve got your bearings in modern London, take a giant step back in time and watch London grow from its ancient origins to become one of the world’s greatest cities and host city for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Each two-page spread highlights London at a distinct moment in time, beginning with the wattle-and-daub encampment along the Thames in 3500 BC and moving on through the coming of the Romans, the revolt of Queen Boudicca, the Vikings, the Normans, the plague, Elizabethan London, the Great Fire, the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Blitz of WWII, construction of the 2012 Olympic venues, with numerous other stops along the way — 18 in all.

At each pause on the timeline, there are several brief, engaging paragraphs giving us the historical background.  The text is set upon a full-spread, beautiful illustration of the city at that time.  Small captions explaining details in the illustration are dotted about the page, and a few cameo illustrations focus our attention on close-up views of the goings on.  These colorful pages are rich in detail — the architecture, landscape, clothing, activities of each period in time are absolutely fascinating to pore over.  As you turn the pages, the passage of time is also shown in a small inset map showing the growth of the city along the Thames.

This book is part of Kingfisher’s gorgeous Through Time series.  Richard Platt is a multiple-award winning author who knows exactly how to bring history alive to children.  The riveting illustrations are by Manuela Cappon, who has done so much gorgeous non-fiction illustration from her studio in Florence, Italy.  By picking and choosing portions of the book, it could be accessible to children as young as 4; the book in its entirety is geared for mid-elementary and up.  Outstanding!

Dodsworth in London, written and illustrated by Tim Egan

Dodsworth the rat and his pal Duck are heading to London in this installment of Tim Egan’s delightful early-reader series.

Arriving in the middle of a London fog, their first stop is a cozy pub.  Although Dodsworth warns Duck against causing any of his usual shenanigans, Duck cannot seem to stay out of trouble and before you can say Bob’s your uncle, mayhem has ensued.  The best way to escape the pub’s irate customers is to hop on a double-decker bus.  But a mix-up separates the two, and in a case of mistaken identity, Dodsworth toursLondon with the Royal Duck instead of his own, impetuous friend.  However will they find one another in that great city?  And however do they wind up bunking with the queen at the palace?!

Featuring tea and crumpets, Scotland Yard, and charming retro-feel watercolors, this is a jolly good story that will tickle your funny bone while   taking you on a whirlwind tour of London.  For those who don’t know the series, Dodsworth is the sensible, straightman, and Duck is the havoc-causing comedic partner.  Together they manage to turn everything topsy turvy in fantastic locations such as New York City, Paris and Rome.  At about a 2nd-grade level, the sentences are short and straightforward, but the vocabulary is quite rich and of course sprinkled with common and proper nouns associated with the setting.  For a sturdy reader, they’re a refreshing, unusual read and they can certainly be read aloud to others.  If you’ve become familiar with London landmarks by other means, the story will be that much more enjoyable.

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard — a wordless story by Gregory Rogers

An errant soccer ball…a tumbledown theater…a clock gone bonkers…and a small boy swept back in time, landing at none other than the Globe Theater, smack in the middle of one of Mr. Shakespeare’s plays — that’s the opening act in this fabulous story filled with chase scenes, hair-breadth escapes, a bear warmhearted as Baloo, one extremely- fortunate old baron, and all the splendor of Elizabethan England.

Mr. Shakespeare is not at all amused at the monumental disruption to his play and sets after our protagonist furiously.  While hiding from him, the boy happens upon a caged bear and kindly sets him free.  The two chums then set out to evade their pursuers and enjoy themselves.  The fashions, markets, and sights of Elizabethan London come to life as the two stroll across London Bridge, rescue an imprisoned baron from certain death, meet the Royal Barge on the Thames, and race through the narrow streets of London.

Page after page of action-packed, colorful, engaging illustrations masterfully tell the story.  Some pages soar with boisterous, full page pictures, while others feature  over a dozen smaller frames.   The sequencing and details are fantastic, the plucky boy will appeal to a wide age range and the bulky, protective bear provides the perfect capable, comforting companion.  This is the first in a series of books by Rogers; the second springs off of Midsummer Night’s Dream and the third explores a Vermeer painting and 17th C. Holland.  Catch them all, but for your London reading, start with this one.  Ages 4 and up.

The Tower of London, written and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher

For a bit more in depth history of London, still in picture book format, here’s an excellent account by a wonderful author/illustrator.

Fisher uses the Tower of London as his subject, beginning with the story of William the Conqueror who began construction of it in 1078.   Learn about its immense size, the kinds of rooms inside it, the Tower’s famous prisoners.  About 150 years later,  Henry III decided it would make a splendid palace.  As Henry’s home, the Tower housed leopards, a polar bear, and featured a secure moat.  Revolts, beheadings, plottings, murders …there’s a lot of sinister history to be learned surrounding the Tower.  On a happier note, it has also been the setting for a lavish wedding, a royal parade, and a refuge from catastrophe.

In short order Fisher touches on numerous monarchs and their use of the Tower.  He accompanies his narration with his exquisite black-and-white illustrations, loaded with historical detail — helmets and pikes, uniforms and crowns, peasants and prisoners and kings come to life in his beautiful, soft, robust drawings.  I’ve enjoyed many of Fisher’s books.  Never talking down, he writes and illustrates for intelligent, curious minds; this one is best for middle-elementary and up.

Here are Amazon links for all these luvvly jubbly books!

A Walk in London

Through Time: London

Dodsworth in London (A Dodsworth Book)

The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard (New York Times Best Illustrated Books (Awards))

Tower of London, The